Putting students at the heart of timetabling

Posted by Tribal Group on February 23, 2016

Putting students at the heart of timetabling


Timetabling methods may have changed from blackboards with endless changes, or pieces of cardboard with lots of coloured pins to hundreds of post-it-notes on a whiteboard, and now timetabling software. One thing remains the same, school timetables can be extremely difficult to construct taking months of effort and presenting major challenges.

Why so difficult?

Timetabling teams are trying to match teachers and students to classes and teaching spaces in the most effective way possible so that students and teachers have a working week that gives them the best chance of delivering and receiving the curriculum that the school has planned. Some see the task of timetabling as a large mathematical challenge that if keyed into a piece of software, the software will find a solution. The mathematics of it is the easy part; it’s the human element that’s tricky, not everyone can get what they want or see the bigger picture.

Things to consider

Allocating classes 

Beyond making sure you’ve got enough teachers to teach all the classes, you’ve got to allocate them in a way that makes sense and seems fair. The difficulty with this is it’s hard to communicate and share the details until it’s all done.

Split classes

Split classes cause problems because of the need for continual communication or the need to split the curriculum into sections. For students, the more teachers they have, the more fragmented their school week becomes.

Blocking and Setting

The more blocking you do, the fewer degrees of freedom you have to move things around. Large elective blocks or blocking core subjects make it difficult to avoid clashes.

Part-time staff

Timetables for part-time staff are difficult, for example when a teacher you need across the whole cycle can only work on certain days. Flexibility is the key here both for those building the timetable and those working part time.


Most teachers really don’t like having to move around a lot. This can be really difficult. Most new schools are designed on a principle of very high occupancy rates – around 95%, when teachers have a maximum 80% loading. Good rooming should give the greatest stability to the people who need it most, both teachers and students.

Getting the right lesson flow

It can be so tempting to stop when you have found a solution to the timetable. It works, be happy. But then you look more closely and notice that some teachers have three consecutive full days and only one lesson on the fourth day. Students may have four consecutive days with a Maths lesson but then won’t have Maths for the next four days. The greatest art in timetabling is solving the puzzle in a way that gives a good spread of lessons for everyone. The best way to test this is to look down the staff list and check whether you’re worried about what anyone will have to say.

What to look for in a timetable solution

Timetabling doesn't have to be rocket science. You should look for a solution that automatically and efficiently builds your timetables so you can focus on what really matters; helping your students to succeed.

Look for the following:

  • Ability to build both simple and complex clash-free timetables quickly and efficiently, so you get the optimum spread of lessons across your timetable cycle.
  • Update your staff with immediate access to timetables, room availability and timetable changes wherever they are.
  • Automatic generation - Remove your timetabling puzzle by automatically generating timetables that optimise all your key staff and room resources.
  • Easily handle the day to day events and plan for the future with the ability to manage the school day and publish changes.

Maximise your students’ potential through effective timetables based on their all-important subject selections. The school timetable sits at the heart of school life. Students, not processes, should be at the heart of your timetable.

To find out more about Tribal’s timetabling solution SchoolEdge, there is an introduction webinar available on March 15 and 22. You can sign up for free here.


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